Public Speaking Tips for Introducing a Speaker
A presentation can live or die as a result of how well the speaker has been introduced.
Years ago I went to a conference where many experts in the industry were each introduced by the host of the event. One speaker came on stage to a particularly glowing introduction and opened his talk by thanking the host for his kind words and saying how grateful he was for the wonderful introduction he had received. He then went on to say that he knew it would be a great introduction because he had written it himself!
All the audience laughed.
It was only years later that I realised he probably was not joking, because it was only after receiving a few dull, half-hearted and confused introductions myself that I realised the true purpose and significance of having the best possible introduction.
A friend of my wife, who ran a women’s business network asked me to deliver a session on public speaking for one of their meetings. As I understood that the members were often at events where they were either being introduced or were introducing other speakers, I thought it might be a good idea to cover speaker introductions during the session.
Therefore to make sure everything would go the way I wanted it to, I wrote out my own introduction and handed it to the host.
I let her read it through and then asked if she was happy to use it to introduce me.
She smiled and agreed.
In the introduction, she told the room how fantastic I was, that every word I spoke would probably be profound and thought-provoking, that they should not risk missing any of the valuable insights that they were about to hear and to reach for their pens and notepads and take lots of notes. She finished by saying that if she had not known that I was already married she would have snapped me up in a moment!
As soon as I stood up I confessed to the room what had just happened, that the introduction had been written by me and that although the introduction was somewhat over the top, it was done to make a point. After all, they were now expectant!
The host of an event is the bridge between the speaker and the audience. The audience probably knows the host; they might not know the speaker. Therefore the host’s recommendation and guidance are very important to the success of the presentation that follows. The host’s recommendation will set up an expectation in the audience and as you probably already know, people are inclined to hear what they expect to hear.
Tell me that the speaker is going to be brilliant, I will take your word for it and unless the speaker is clearly disappointing I will have been primed to hear and assume the best in what is being said.
I work on the assumption that if I have been asked to speak, I am there to do a job for the host or for their business. The best way for me to succeed and have a positive influence is to set up a high expectation; the best way to set up high expectations is to have an excellent introduction and the surest way to have an excellent introduction is to write it yourself!
There is no Ego or vanity involved in this. I want to have the best introduction so that I can do the best job.
If I had to say the words myself – that would sound like Ego and vanity, but the audience probably doesn’t know me; they know and trust the host and will therefore take their recommendation
10 tips for introducing a speaker
Find out who they are
As so often, I am starting with an obvious one. However, I mention it because I have heard many introductions where the host clearly does not really know who they are introducing, which comes across in their voice and delivery and so that any sense of personal recommendation is absent. The host might as well say:
‘I don’t know who is next. Make up your own mind.’ (I have had a few introductions like that)
The host now serves no positive purpose.
I remember working with an organisation that wanted help preparing for their conference. I had each of the main speakers in the room. The managing director decided to attend some of the sessions, although, as he told me, he did not need to speak for himself, he was just introducing the other speakers!
I had to subtly point out to him that how each speaker was received would depend very much on the style and standard of their introduction. Happily, he appreciated this and decided to stay longer and take part in the session.
Stay true to the rule of three
Don’t deliver the speaker’s complete CV, just enough to capture the audience’s attention.
Therefore look for three points that are particularly relevant to the audience.
In this respect, think of the host as the first leg of a relay race; their job is to get up to speed so that they can pass the baton on to the speaker.
How often does it feel like the host has dropped the baton? - or in some extreme cases the host seems to have gone out of their way to throw the baton into the bushes for the speaker to find for themselves?
Keep it short and positive – whatever is necessary to win the audience’s full attention.
Understand your power
As a host, you can do something that the speaker cannot do for themselves. You can provide a superlative introduction that captures the audience’s attention. If the speaker were to introduce themselves with the same words, they would be open to the accusation of being vain and arrogant. This in part was what I was trying to demonstrate with my slightly exaggerated introduction to the women’s business network.
Express a personal connection
If you have met the speaker, let the room know that you can recommend them as a human being not just for their professional ability. People like to like people; if they know that their speaker is not just a trusted subject expert, but also a wonderful human being, that can only raise their positive expectations.
If you have not met the speaker, you can still pass on the positives that you have heard from others.
And failing that, you might still be able to say that they are a ‘great friend’ to your organisation.
Think of all those musicians who invite another star on stage to perform with them. They always introduce their ‘very great friend’.
Let them know how lucky they are
People like to think they have got something special, so tell them that we are ‘so lucky’ to have this speaker and to heighten their good fortune, let them know how busy the speaker is and how ‘lucky we are that they have taken time out of their incredibly busy diary to be with us today!’
(You don’t want your audience to get the impression that the speaker had nothing better on.)
If you cannot say they are your great friend, then don’t. Please don’t feel obliged to speak in massive superlatives if it is not your natural turn of phrase. Keep in mind, your job is to build a positive expectation so that the speaker can start with positive momentum. So be as natural as you can.
Guide the audience
Having excited the audience’s interest, guide them to how you would like them to behave.
That could be to recommend putting their hands up if they have a question;
to keep their questions to the end,
or to take out their pens and notepads to take notes.
Usually, if I am introducing someone I will recommend to the audience to take notes.
It suggests that what they are about to hear is worth listening to; it means they won’t miss anything
and it guarantees that they will get more out of the talk because words are easily forgotten,
and pen or pencil is a little more permanent.
Over time I have found that there are three words to a good introduction and if you can get these three words in, in some form, you will have done a good job.
Those words are: successful, friend, listen.
The audience wants to know that their speaker is worth listening to (successful), they enjoy the sense that they are privileged to be in a unique position to be able to listen to them (friend) and the host should build up the value of what is coming and guide the audience (listen).
Your enthusiasm as the host is what will lead the audience. If the host does not care, then why should the audience? Therefore make sure all your best presentation skills are on show, especially a lively, positive, and engaging voice.
Finish with their name
Firstly – get the name right! If not sure ask how it is pronounced.
At the time of writing this the number one female tennis player in the world is Iga Swiatek (pronounced Sviontek). A BBC newsreader has just called the current score in a tennis final and the fact that they do not know how to pronounce her name, immediately suggests a gap in the announcer’s credibility.
Ask the speaker how they would like to be introduced: as professor, Dr, Lord, Lady or simply first name and family name.
And make sure the last words of your introduction are the name of the speaker because as soon as you say their name the audience will start applauding. So to avoid any premature applause refer to ‘our speaker today’; he’, ‘she’, or ‘they’ and when you finally say their name, say it on a crescendo and upward tone in your voice, either accompanied by an expansive gesture of welcome or by leading the audience in a round of applause.
And now you have successfully handed the baton over and your speaker can enter with full momentum.